Our culture is saturated in scientism. Scientism comes in various forms. One is the belief that all knowledge is scientific — which is a proposition that is itself not scientific, and therefore self-refuting. Which is to say, it is false.
That embarrassing correction has been pointed out many times. There’s more to say about it, but we’ll leave it for another time.
The proposition still fails if we swap most for all. Putting knowledge—provable truths only and not likelihoods—on the scale, science on one side, and all other knowledge on the other, science loses the battle, too. Which I take to be obvious, given science deals more in probabilities than necessary truths.
A variant of the all-knowledge proposition is the superiority-proposition: the best knowledge is scientific.
This one is at least not self-refuting, but it remains conditional on best. Defining best is not scientific, and changes meaning depending on context. Sometimes scientific knowledge is best, for instance, in discussions of the operation of lasers. And sometimes scientific knowledge is not best. As in our next example, the worst form of scientism.
A collection (a.k.a. a hubris) of researchers, stationed at whatever you think is our greatest university, develops a model which predicts, to some pleasing degree of accuracy, but of course imperfectly and probabilistically, who will win ladies’ soccer games.
The model is accepted as a piece of science, and verifies well enough. It’s probabilities are calibrated, it never predicts certainty in either direction, and it beats all known competitor models. Again, it is not perfect, or anywhere close to it, given the contingency of sports and the blizzard of causes involved. But it’s not bad, either.
If you were a gambler, you’d consider this model, if not default to it.
Some ruler takes note of this model, sees the science in it, and then issues this mandate:
“Follow the science!” says our ruler. “We must, at all costs, restore Equity in women’s sports. And so all must make bets now on ladies’ soccer games.”
All people must bet using this model, on every ladies’ soccer game, and must bet at least $10 per event; those who fail to make these bets will forbidden to communicate on social media, lest their obstreperousness catch on.
The government, which is beneficent and loves us, knows that not all can afford the $10 per game. So they print money and send it to the poor (those making under a hundred grand a year), dictating that the money must be used to make the bets.
Propagandists, ever desirous of currying favor with rulers, go all in on this mandate. They take to denouncing deniers, who are those who reject the mandate’s goals and means.
Corporations embrace it with glee, firing those who fail to bet.
The charge of sexism and misogyny is leveled, and even “Racism!” is heard, given the constituency of the teams.
Many seek religious exemptions, saying betting is against their sincerely held religious beliefs. These people are scoffed at, called backward, or are ignored. All government employees who ask for exemptions are rejected.
After a goodly period of time, viewership on women’s soccer is up somewhat. This improvement is put down to the positive effects of Science.
Eventually, of course, attention flags. Rulers move to new crises, the people react to new panics, corporations focus on new ways to milk the populace, and Science turns its all-seeing eye to something new.
It’s then discovered the model created by the experts had a “divide-by-two” mistake. The code was flawed, and a substantial portion of the time the probabilities were “inverted”. What was said to be a “Eighty percent chance” was really “Twenty percent”, and so forth.
And then the viewership, while it did rise for time, gradually fell back to something not far from its old level after attention waned and the mandate expired.
That’s scientism. That mandate. Even if the model turned out to be as good as promised, and had no flaw, even if it predicted perfectly every time with no exceptions, it’s still scientism. It does not follow from the perfection of the model that one must bet, even if one will with certainty make, or at least not lose, money on the bet.
This, then, is the worst form of scientism. Where “The Science” is used as a bludgeon to compel behavior.
Science is silent on questions of right and wrong. All questions of right and wrong. At best, Science can tell you how many people do some bad or good thing, and perhaps identify some of the circumstances of good and bad behavior in a predictable way, but that’s it.
What is right or wrong to do is never “The Science.” Which is why you must never follow “The Science”. You must do good and not do bad.
As I’ve said many times, those who say “Listen to The Science!” really say “Listen to me.”
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